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James Couzens. [left to right] C. C. Dill, Owen Young, and James Couzens, before the Senate Interstate Commerce Commission. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98142).

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Couzens, James (26 August 1872–22 October 1936), businessman, mayor of Detroit, and U.S. senator, was born in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, the son of James J. Couzens and Emma Clift, an immigrant couple from England. Raised in a stern Presbyterian household and a lower-income family that lived on the “muddiest” street in town, young Couzens’s education was capped by two years of bookkeeping study at Chatham’s Canada Business College. He worked as a newsboy and then stirring smelly, boiling vats for his father, who had parlayed his skills as a soapmaker and salesman into ownership of a small soap-making factory. Displaying an assertive independence, which contemporaries noted that he had inherited from his stern-willed father, young Couzens set off for Detroit to test his mettle in the larger world and in 1890 was taken on as a railroad car–checker for the Michigan Central. Five years later he became an assistant bookkeeper for Alex Malcomson’s coal business, which brought him into contact with a mechanical tinkerer and automobile pioneer named ...

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Fuller, Alvan Tufts (27 February 1878–30 April 1958), automobile dealer, congressman, and governor of Massachusetts, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Alvan Bond Fuller, a Civil War veteran who worked in the composing room of the Boston Globe, and Flora Arabella Tufts. He grew up in an old New England family of modest means in the Boston suburb of Malden, where he attended public schools. A champion bicycle racer, he went to work in the shipping department of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company factory and sold rubber boots evenings and weekends to earn money to build his own bike shop. After Fuller opened the shop in Malden in 1895 his ebullient personality and flair for salesmanship made it an immediate success. A notable Fuller innovation was his Washington’s Birthday open house, which gave customers an opportunity to view new models on a winter holiday and to plan their spring purchases. He moved his business to Boston in 1898....

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Hoffman, Paul Gray (26 April 1891–08 October 1974), automotive executive, government official, and international administrator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, and spent his childhood in a nearby suburb. His parents—George Hoffman, a successful inventor, corporate executive, and entrepreneur, and Eleanor Lott—provided a comfortable family environment oriented toward modern business and civic responsibility. He ended his formal schooling in 1909 after a year at the University of Chicago....

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Vance, Harold Sines (22 August 1890–31 August 1959), automotive executive and government official, was born in Port Huron, Michigan, the son of Samuel W. Vance, a lawyer and circuit judge, and Carrie Sines. After attending public schools and reading law with the partner of his deceased father, he unsuccessfully sought appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. In 1910 he took a job as a mechanic’s apprentice in a local machine shop owned by the Everitt-Metzger-Flanders (EMF) Company, a Detroit manufacturer of cars and car parts....